Think about the last time you used technology in your daily life.
Maybe it was dialing up a colleague on your smartphone, using your laptop to take notes in a meeting or an online tool to help you put together that big presentation. Digital tools play a big role in today’s economy, and the ability to operate different technologies appropriately is one of the top skills employers look for.
Nationally, President Obama is pushing for schools to increase their use of technology in the classroom in order to prepare students for life in today’s world. Teachers nationwide are introducing “Bring Your Own Device” policies, and beginning to use tools like Skype to bring in guest lecturers from around the world. Teachers in Indiana are being recognized for paving the way when it comes to new technology, but effectively incorporating it into teaching can be a challenge.
‘Mr. A’ Paves The Way
You can see the excitement on students’ faces in this fifth grade class at Allisonville Elementary in Indianapolis as their teacher Steve Auslander – known to students as “Mr. A” – prepares to give them a math lesson using online software for NFL game stats.
Auslander is pumped up, too.
“I get really excited just talking about it!” Auslander exclaims.
He darts back and forth from his computer to a digital projector in the middle of his classroom, speaking to his students through a tiny microphone hanging on a string around his neck. And that’s not all Auslander’s got in his arsenal: he lists off the different “tech specs” he’s using in his classroom these days:
“I have an HD camera over there on top of my computer, the Promethean board is a great tool, we’re using Skype, I’ve done a QR scavenger hunt in the classroom to practice math skills, a video tutorial…”
[pullquote] The ability to connect with my students, just that alone is incredible. – Steve Auslander, 5th grade teacher[/pullquote]
Auslander throws out a lot of technology terms – and he recognizes that can frighten some people.
“It can be overwhelming. I understand why teachers might be nervous,” Auslander says. “But, oh my goodness, I am such a better teacher right now. The ability to connect with my students, just that alone is incredible.”
Indiana Keeps Pace
Auslander is one of about 650 teachers in the Washington Township school district, under the leadership of Nikki Woodson. Woodson was one of eight Indiana superintendents recently recognized as national leaders in their communities for incorporating technology into their classrooms.
Last week, President Obama welcomed Woodson and about 100 other superintendents from districts around the country to the White House. It was part of the president’s initiative to transform learning through technology.
“One of the things that we also need to do is yank our schools into the twenty-first century when it comes to technology, and providing the tools and training that teachers need to use that technology to prepare all of our students for the competition that they’re going to face globally,” Obama says.
— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) November 19, 2014
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan agrees.
“While there’s some amazing innovation, relative to the rest of the world frankly I think we’re behind,” Duncan says. “And this is not a race we want to lose.”
Woodson says after her visit to Washington, she realizes her district is lucky.
“We have a lot going for staff and students here in Washington Township, and that is not the case nationwide,” Woodson admits. “I think Indiana has been very forward-thinking when it comes to technology.”
Plenty of school leaders agree digital learning is the way to go, but not every state has the resources to get up to speed. Districts can reallocate money from textbook fees or use federal funds such as Title I grant money, but that’s left up to the discretion of their local school boards and shifting money around can create funding gaps in other parts of the budget. .
According to “Keeping Pace” – a nationwide survey of digital learning across states – enrollments of students in fully online and blended schools throughout Indiana are up from last year. In fact, researchers say Indiana has significantly expanded a variety of digital learning options for its students after state legislation established the state’s career council, a group responsible for aligning the various participants in the education, job skills and career training systems.
Classroom Skills Translate To Office Skills
Ronda Eshleman is principal of Indiana Online Academy, a nonprofit program that offers supplemental online courses to students from more than 255 high schools throughout the state – including some schools in the Washington Township district. She says having online experiences is important for all students.
“When they get to college they’re going to be taking online courses, and that’s what they’re going to be doing in the workforce,” Eshleman explains.
Eshleman says having online skills is crucial in today’s global economy, and at school is the best place to learn those skills.
“It’s a safe environment, you’ve got the teacher there,” Eshleman says. “It’s kind of a nice way to get their feet wet, get them kind of used to it, because that’s the world they’re going to be living in.“
But teachers often find it difficult to learn these new technologies. Steve Auslander says that’s why he often relies on his students to help him figure things out.
“Let’s face it, a lot of our fifth graders know more about technology than even I do,” Auslander says, chuckling. “They’re helping me kind of learn new things.”
As a teacher at the forefront of tech in the classroom, Auslander says he can only imagine technology will become more integrated into the classroom from now on.
[pullquote] That’s the world they’re going to be living in. – Ronda Eshleman, Indiana Online Academy Principal[/pullquote]
“We’re not teaching the future – it’s not like ‘The Jetsons,’ even though it feels like it,” Auslander says. “It’s the reality, we’re teaching the present.”
“If kids are engaged in learning, they’re going to learn,” he continues. “Excitement about school and a positive attitude about being in school is more than half the battle.”
And from the sound of it, Auslander’s students share his outlook. Eleven-year-old Danae Ingemi says class would be very different without their devices: she likes being able to use iPads, computers and other software to finish her schoolwork.
“We would just be like doing classwork on paper, and that would be like boring!” Ingemi says.
But students, teachers and administrators in Washington Township all echo the same sentiment that technology isn’t all about things or devices – its’ about using those devices as tools for learning.